Lawmaker’s former chief of staff says he’s not fund conduit
DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines—The former chief of staff of then Pangasinan Rep. Conrado Estrella III on Sunday denied that he was a conduit for channeling funds to fugitive businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
“How can I be a conduit when I am not an implementor? I was only a chief of staff then,” said Lourd Dexter Manalo in an e-mail to the Inquirer.
Manalo was the chief of staff of Estrella, now a representative of the party-list group Abono, from 2007 to 2010. He was the only staff member of a congressman identified by whistle-blowers in the P10-billion pork barrel scam in which Napoles allegedly funneled the pork of lawmakers into bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and fake beneficiaries.
The lawmakers received up to 65 percent of the cost of a supposed project as kickbacks, said the whistle-blowers, who included a Napoles cousin and former employee. The rest went to Napoles and her group.
Other conduits the whistle-blowers identified in affidavits they submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation were Jessica Lucila “Gigi” Gonzales, chief of staff of Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile; Jose Antonio Evangelista, Enrile’s deputy chief of staff; Pauline Labayen, deputy chief of staff of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada; Richard Cambe, chief political adviser to Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr.; and Jen Corpuz, a member of the staff of Sen. Vicente Sotto III.
“What conduits are we talking about here? This is malicious,” said Manalo.
He said that when he served as Estrella’s chief of staff, he had strictly complied with government auditing rules and regulations.
“That is why all the documents that I signed consistently contained a provision stating that all are subject to conformity with government auditing rules and regulations. Without that, I do not sign anything,” he said.
Manalo said investigators should also focus their attention on the implementing government agencies and establish whether they had complied with the procurement law.
“Perhaps, in order to get to the bottom of this, we should examine carefully how the government agencies concerned complied with the procurement [law], in accordance with Commission on Audit rules and regulations,” he said.
“Had they exercised due diligence then, all of these would not have happened because if the media can detect whether an NGO is bogus or not, what more with these government agencies concerned which have sufficient resources and manpower to do it. In fact, they are empowered by laws to see to it that all transactions are aboveboard,” he said.
In Isabela, former Rep. Anthony Miranda said the Aksyon Makamasa Foundation Inc., where part of his pork barrel went, was a legitimate organization.
A Commission on Audit study found that P6.165 billion in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of 12 senators and 180 House members from 2007 to 2009 went to 82 questionable NGOs. The PDAF is the official name of the pork barrel.
In a statement, Miranda, who was an incorporator of the foundation, said the funds given to Aksyon Makamasa went to beneficiaries through social, infrastructure and livelihood projects.
Magdalena Valentin, a former beneficiary, said she received a hog through a livelihood dispersal program of the foundation.
Miranda, who served as representative from 2004 to 2007 and as Santiago City councilor from 2001 to 2004, said he had nothing to hide and that his conscience was clear.
“I do not need to clear my name because my conscience is clear. Aksyon Makamasa Foundation is a legitimate organization,” he said in Filipino.
But former beneficiaries and the licensing office of Santiago said the foundation stopped operating after Miranda finished his term in 2007.—Gabriel Cardinoza and Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon